2013, year of accessibility (and FOSDEM)

The problem with declaring something like: “2012 is the year of accessibility for GNOME!” is that it sound like we’ll be moving on after the year is over. Not so! Today we published the call for bids to use the money that we raised from our Friends of GNOME campaign plus another $10,000 generously contributed by Mozilla.

This puts me in exactly the right mindset to listen to Alejandro Piñeiro’s talk at FODSEM on Sunday morning, “How GNOME Obsoleted its “Enable Accessibility” Setting”.

I also can’t wait for Vincent Untz’s Has the GNOME community gone crazy?” talk on Sunday! See you at FOSDEM – I’m in Brussels already and about to head out to meetings including the first in-person advisory board meeting not at GUADEC (at least in a long time). I’m moderating a panel on compliance Saturday morning in the legal issues room which I’m co-chairing again, and will try to spend some quality time at the GNOME booth too. And don’t forget the GNOME beer event on Saturday!

Help Make GNOME Safer than Ever!

Today we’ve launched a new Friends of GNOME campaign, aimed at making GNOME one of the most secure computing environments available.

Privacy is an extremely important component of a top notch computing environment. Many of us choose to use GNU/Linux systems with privacy in mind. However, while we have many of the right tools in the free software world, we don’t have a desktop where they are well integrated into the user experience.

After meeting Jacob Appelbaum at LCA, I was really inspired about work we could do at GNOME to improve the desktop and make it more secure. Happily, Jacob agreed to come to GUADEC and deliver a GNOME-centric keynote just for us.

Many of us in the GNOME community have been talking about this since then, and have now decided to focus our efforts around a Friends of GNOME campaign. We’re also having a discussion that you can join on desktop-devel-list about features we can add to improve the situation.

So as you head out or stay in for your end of year celebrations, please donate to our new campaign!

The Ups and Downs of GNOME 3

One of the most interesting parts of being Executive Director of GNOME has been riding the wave of feedback on GNOME 3. I took the position after GNOME 3 was already released, and it was that beautiful vision of the GNU/Linux desktop that inspired me to leave a job I loved. Since then, the highs have been really high and the lows have been tough. One of the very visible disappointments we had was aggressive criticism from Linus Torvalds, which started a cascade of detraction by others and a perception of a real decline in the GNOME community. It’s been difficult to reconcile all of the ups and downs. At GUADEC, we had such a rich experience with great participation by a broad community (and with a very high percentage of active attendance by newcomers) while at the very same time the blogoverse was exploding with news that our contributor diversity had completely dwindled away.

An article today in the Register got me thinking about all of this in a fresh way. The article talks about Linus Torvalds, and primarily about his style of interacting with others. The article ends with this:

Torvalds has switched back to GNOME 3 as he reckons the desktop GUI’s problems are being fixed: “It has been getting less painful. They have extensions that are still too hard to find. You can make your desktop look almost as good as it did two years ago.”

I was a little stunned as I read that – it was an afterthought to the article, and it really brought home how things often work in the free software press. The criticism we received was featured by many – if Linus Torvalds slammed GNOME, then how could it have any future? And yet, not so long after, he’s switched back. The point is that it really takes time to get things right. In free software, we develop in the open. We release often, and sometimes it takes more time to make something that is truly ready for prime time. But by going ahead early, we have the chance to really build a community around our software, be inclusive and have a chance to make mistakes and then learn from them with input from others.

At GUADEC and in connection with our 15th anniversary, we talked a lot about how negatively GNOME 2 was perceived upon release and how it took a long time for it to become the desktop that everyone loved. I think this is how that happens in a true free software community run project – through slow incremental improvements that may only be acknowledged as afterthoughts in an article.

Linus may not stay with GNOME 3 but I’m glad he’s giving it another go and having a more positive experience. I hope that others do the same. I remain as inspired as ever by GNOME. GNOME 3 is a beautiful desktop experience that I continue to enjoy using and love showing off to others. Our community is vibrant. I’m proud to be a part of it and look forward to seeing it grow and improve, incrementally and over time!

Newcomer Experience Survey

As Marina has written about already, PhD student Kevin Carillo has put up a survey to evaluate the experience of newcomers to the Debian, GNOME, Gentoo, KDE, Mozilla, Ubuntu, NetBSD and OpenSUSE communities.

The survey is only for newcomers, so only take it if you joined one of those communities within the last 3 years (after January 2010).

Thanks to Kevin for studying our free software communities! While we try to make the best experience we can for newcomers, I know that folks have varied experiences in actuality. Getting involved with the Ada Initiative has reminded me of just how far we have to go in order to make our communities truly inclusive. Understanding what our recent newcomers think about their introduction to GNOME can really help. So, if you joined us after January 2010 please take a moment to fill out the survey…

All is well!

Thanks for all of your kind thoughts and wishes. Baby and I are safe at home now and we’re all starting to figure things out! I’ll be around intermittently for the next week, and am checking email and voicemail if anything urgent comes up. (For those of you interested in my medical devices work – I met yet another electrophysiologist who hadn’t heard that ICDs could be maliciously hacked. Also, the shock that comes in your leg when you get an epidural feels exactly like getting shocked by an implanted defibrillator. weird!)

If this is posted…

…it’s because I’ve gone to the hospital to have a baby! I’ll likely not have an out of office message on my email straight away but be unresponsive for a few days at least. Thanks for understanding, and for your good wishes!

Off to GUADEC!

It’s been a crazy week leading up to GUADEC, doing preparatory work and helping to wrap up a wide variety of tasks. It’s times like this that I’m happy I work from home, as working a lot and taking it easy haven’t been mutually exclusive. After a good amount of back and forth with doctors, I’m happy to say that I’m hopping on a plane tomorrow. In order to come to GUADEC I had to plan an easier travel schedule than normal, so I’ll be arriving in A Coruña on Monday. I’m excited to see everyone and for what’s shaping up to be a fabulous conference! See you there!

Literally and figuratively fried!

I’ve been pretty quiet about my heart device lately, mostly focusing on GNOME events and other GNOME-centric activities. The whole time, though, my device has been working away quietly in my chest monitoring my heart. Until this weekend, when I was out of town and my heart went into what the device interpreted as a dangerous rhythm, and it gave me two defibrillator shocks over the course of two days. I went to the ER in New Hampshire, and after a long saga of getting the multitude of doctors up to speed, was admitted to the cardiac unit. I don’t know how many doctors worked on my case, exactly, but I can name 13! It was very interesting talking to the various doctors about my heart condition and learning how many of the cardiologists (and even electrophysiologists) hadn’t even thought about the security of the devices at all. Only one of them knew that the devices had been hacked, and he only knew the device manufacturer’s take on it. While I was more worried about getting my heart into a safer mode of operation, it was a good opportunity to do a little advocacy and learn more about the way doctors think about these issues.

It turned out that the shocks were inappropriate, though they weren’t exactly bugs either. My device isn’t set up to deal with the problems that my heart was having, but it interpreted the data it was receiving as a dangerous rhythm and delivered the shocks, even though they couldn’t have helped the situation. I have to admit it was pretty scary, and at 30 weeks pregnant, the hospital went into high gear to make sure that the baby was also ok (luckily, the baby *is* totally fine).

The really troubling thing about this situation is that I don’t really know what exactly brought this on and whether it will happen again. My heart device has been reprogrammed so that it’s less likely to fire in this situation again, and I’m on a higher dosage of drugs to prevent the more dangerous parts of the heartbeat. I’m hoping I can find out more information soon from the specialist doctors I normally work with, and in the meantime I’m just extremely tired while I adjust to the higher dosages.

I took yesterday off from work to recover from the hospital stay, travel and lack of sleep and have been catching up as best I can today. Hopefully I’ll get a better idea of what’s going on this week or soon after. I’m still planning on going to GUADEC, unless the doctors give me a red light – keep your fingers crossed!

What I’ve been up to

It’s been a crazy few weeks! I went to Cleveland to see my specialist cadiologist (which I do once a year), which was all the more important this time given my pregnancy. An added plus is that he does a lot of work with drug safety and is very interested to hear about safety concerns regarding the software in the medical devices he frequently prescribes. I also had a bunch of various medical tests connected to the pregnancy. All is fine thus far, but they seem to come in waves and are an annoying interuption to my work! Here are some of the specific things I worked on the past couple of weeks:

  • I’ve been helping with preparations for GUADEC! I’ve been working with sponsors and potential sponsors, had the privilege of inviting and working with some of the keynoters and generally assisting with the conference preparation. The local and papers committees have been working very hard. It’s going to be an amazing conference! If you haven’t registered already, you definitely should do that soon!
  • Looking forward to next year, we published the call for GUADEC 2013 proposals. If you’d like to see GUADEC in your city, this is your chance!!
  • I followed up with a company that was using the GNOME foot inappropriately, and they stopped the use. They were extremely helpful and pointed me to where they found the logo and I was able to put some trademark notices in there too. I also started tracking down permissions on other GNOME-related logos and discovered that there’s more work to do.
  • The amazing Aaron Williamson of the Software Freedom Law Center helped us figure out some legal questions for Online Accounts and in return I got to help pro bono in a small way with something important that SFLC is working on. I’ve found that I really miss doing some of the legal work I used to do, so it’s nice to do at least a little bit for GNOME and other free softare organizations too.
  • As you may have seen in one of my recent blog posts here, I’m working on helping push the accessibility campaign over the last hurdle – we’re so close to meeting our goal!
  • I helped try to make sure that all of our existing Friends of GNOME subscriptions are being handled properly, and renewed discussions to overhaul our system to track them. Right now we rely on a lot of manual work, and I hope we can do better.
  • Bradley and I released a new episode of Free as in Freedom, which included a talk by Philippe Laurent from FOSDEM 2012, entitled Open Licences before European Courts, along with commentary by us.
  • I wrote a press release announcing GNOME’s new board of directors and enjoyed the first meeting that the new board sat in on (they don’t vote until the next one). I’m definitely sad to have some of the directors step down, but it’s also extremely exciting to have fresh perspectives from new people.
  • I cleaned up some paperwork that’s been sitting on my “desk” and finally submitted for reimbursements from the conferences that were nice enough to agree to pay for my travel to attend. Also, after consulting with my doctors, it’s become clear that OSCON isn’t in the cards for me this year. I’m so disappointed, but given the fact that it’s right before GUADEC, it’s just not practical for me to go this time. I have to make sure that I’m making all of the right choices to be there for GUADEC, so this year will have to be a pass!
  • I attended the IRC meeting of the GNOME Outreach for Women program. The program is currently in full swing, and as the blog posts on the Planet indicate, I think it’s going great! As always, many thanks to Marina for doing such a great job. I also took the time to follow up on some conversations that had been started around funding time to see how we can futher expand the program in the future. It’s been great to see our program pointed out by so many different people as a good approach to helping improve the participation of women in free software (and in many different contexts)!

A heartbreaking look at software patents

My friend and former colleague from SFLC, Dan Ravicher, wrote to me about this little girl who relies on an app to speak. The app is under threat for patent infringement and Apple has already removed it from the itunes store. This story has already got some press, but now the app has actually been removed from itunes, and the parents are worried that Apple will remotely update the device to remove it. What amazes me about this story is that it echoes some of my own feelings towards my pacemaker/defibrillator. It shows how real people are increasingly relying on technology that they have less and less control over for extremely important aspects of our lives. While malfunction of the app isn’t a concern for this family in the same way it is for medical devices like mine, they live in fear that one day their daughter’s voice will just stop working and there’s very little they can do about it. It’s another side of the software patent issues and lockdown that I really hadn’t considered before. Many thanks to Dan for his work with the Public Patent Foundation.